Have you ever tried really hard to make yourself good on your own? I know I have tried to conquer sin by sheer willpower (white-knuckling sound familiar?), only to ultimately fall back into the same mess. If I’m honest with myself, which I tend to be when I’ve tried many times and failed: without Christ, I am made up of dragon flesh.
I recently mentioned that I was reading the Narnia Chronicles to my children. I’m always amazed at how I can learn from the pictures Lewis created. My favorite picture in all of the books, besides that of Aslan sacrificing Himself as Jesus did, is of Eustace in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.
If you haven’t read the book, Eustace is not a fun person to have on board a Narnian ship. He is a proud, whiny, and self-focused bully. He doesn’t like being pulled into Narnia through a picture frame, and he enjoys sailing on the ocean in a small ship even less. The others put up with him with restraint because he is related to Edmund and Lucy, but nobody enjoys his company. When the ship lands on an uninhabited island after coming through a fierce storm, Eustace, instead of helping with the hard work of repairing the ship, decides to take a walk by himself to find a quiet place to nap. In the course of this walk, after a nap in a dragon’s cave, he is turned into a dragon.
He lives like this for a time, but in the meantime, his character changes, and he becomes a kinder person. One night, Aslan the Lion comes to him and takes him to a large well, where he is instructed to undress and bathe. Eustace the dragon easily peels one layer of his skin off, only to discover the skin underneath is just as rough and wrinkled and scaly as his first skin was. He peels away two more layers of skin, but the same problem persists. Finally Aslan tells Eustace he will have to let the Lion undress him. After this Eustace says, “I was afraid of his claws, I can tell you, but I was pretty near desperate now. So I just lay flat down on my back to let him do it. The very first tear he made was so deep that I thought it had gone right into my heart. And when he began pulling the skin off, it hurt worse than anything I’ve ever felt…–and there it was, lying on the grass…and there was I as smooth and soft as a peeled switch and smaller than I had been” (The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by CS Lewis © copyright CS Lewis Pte Ltd 1952).
We can’t, any more than Eustace, peel our dragon flesh off by ourselves. Our willpower just isn’t strong enough to make a permanent change. We need our Lion to strip us of our ugliness and make us new. Lewis uses the language of taking off ugly “clothes” for his story, and this is an echo of the Story, the real Story, where Isaiah says, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isaiah 64:6). Even when we aren’t acting as badly as Eustace did, even when we try to be good, the good acts we try to perform are no better than dirty, ugly rags. As Spurgeon said, “Brethren, if our righteousnesses are so bad, what must our unrighteousnesses be?” (Spurgeon).
Praise God that like the Lion, He’s willing to take that ugly sin from us and clothe us anew. Isaiah also says, “I will rejoice greatly in the LORD, My soul will exult in my God; For He has clothed me with garments of salvation, He has wrapped me with a robe of righteousness, As a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10). Just as God fully clothed Adam and Eve after their first sin left them feeling naked and ashamed, He still clothes today. Jesus cuts deep to our heart and peels off our thick dragon flesh and covers us instead with His righteousness (Galatians 3:27)!